Stop reading this for a minute—and think about your shoulders. Where are they? Are they rounded or slumped? Are they causing a strain in your neck?
Many of us have little or no awareness of our posture, but poor posture can contribute to a host of problems, including muscle pain and injury when performing regular activities, such as getting dressed or carrying groceries. The good news is that it’s easy to take control of our upper-body posture.
Our editors spoke with Brent Anderson, PhD, a physical therapist, adjunct instructor at the University of Miami and founder and president of Polestar Pilates in Coral Gables, Florida (www.PolestarPilates.com), about improving upper-back alignment. When our upper body is in alignment, we optimize the movement of our joints... have increased muscle strength... and are at decreased risk for injury. The exercises below borrow from Pilates, an exercise modality uniquely able to help improve posture. During Pilates, you perform controlled, mindful moves that improve the flexibility and strength of muscles required for good posture.
RETRAINING YOUR MUSCLES
You can align your head, neck and back by retraining your muscles. These easy-to-do exercises are designed to help you with this by improving the range of motion and strength of the muscles of the back and neck so that it is easier to bring them into alignment. Repeat each exercise up to 10 times daily. Do each repetition carefully, and you won’t need to do more to benefit. Consult with a doctor before doing any new exercises.
Rolldown. What it does: Improves movement of the spine and increases postural awareness.
Stand against a wall with the back of your head, rib cage and buttocks touching the wall. Walk your feet about one foot away from the wall, and put your hands on your thighs. Slowly roll forward, sliding your hands gently down the fronts of your thighs. As you roll forward, feel each vertebra leave the wall. When you have gone as far as you can, roll back up, touching one vertebra at a time to the wall. People with osteoporosis should not do this exercise—bending the spine forward is not recommended for those with low bone density. The movement can result in microfractures of the spine.
Paint the Ceiling. What it does: Increases range of motion in the neck.
While seated, imagine a long artist’s paintbrush extending up from the crown of your head. Remain seated as you position your head so that the crown of your head is as close to the ceiling as you can get it. With the "paintbrush," nod your head forward and backward, drawing a one- to two-inch line on the ceiling. Move just your head. Next, "paint" a short line on the ceiling from side to side. Finally, paint a small circle by rotating your head in both directions.
The Pre-Swan. What it does: Increases the strength and mobility of the muscles of the upper spine. Helps correct a forward curve in the upper spine.
Lie on your stomach on the floor on a mat or carpet. Bend your elbows so that your hands are under your shoulders. Inhale, and gently press your hands into the floor. Reach your elbows toward your heels, and peel your upper chest off the floor, keeping the lowest ribs in contact with the floor. This small movement should be felt only in the upper back and chest. (If you feel this in the lower back, you may have rolled up too high.) People with back problems should consult a doctor before doing this exercise.
To find a certified Pilates instructor to help you improve your posture, visit www.PilatesMethodAlliance.org, a nonprofit organization that provides a list of qualified instructors around the country.